Shrinking the world: Improvements in the speed of information transmission, c. 1820 1870
It is commonly believed that not much happened in the transmission of information before the introduction of the electric telegraph. This article, however, argues that this was not the case, that quite a substantial improvement in the speed of information transmission had already taken place a few decades before this technical breakthrough. Between 1820 and 1860, global dispatch times diminished remarkably, on average to about a third of what they had been around 1820. This implies that on most routes the improvement during these three decades amounted to more saved days than was achieved after the introduction of the electric telegraph. The development can be described as an evolution which started in Europe in the 1830s and was diffused gradually all over the world. The first transcontinental communications to benefit were those across the North Atlantic and to the Far East, with South America, Africa and Australia clearly trailing behind. The take-off was initially connected with the introduction of steamships on coastal or short sea routes and subsequently on increasingly long ocean voyages. However, even traditional overland mail-coach connections improved as also did sailing-ship ( packet ) connections over the North Atlantic until the late 1830s. It was only in the late 1840s and 1850s that railways started to shrink distances within Continental Europe.
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